Exposing the village of Copenhagen in the town of Denmark, New york

Photographer and architect Troels Steenholdt Heiredal adventures deep in the rural countryside of upstate New York to capture the small American town of Copenhagen for his recent project ‘Copenhagen NYDK.’

Published: March 4, 2018Words: J.Scott Stratton & Troels Steenholdt Heiredal Artist Link: troelsheiredal.com

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. But in the case of artist Troels Steenholdt Heiredal’s project Copenhagen NYDK, it’s not the picture that is worth a thousand words, but the concept from which they are built upon.

All across the United States, one can find small towns that were build up from nothing on that backs of immigrants from Europe. You can find towns called Paris – in fact, there are twenty-one of them. There are nineteen towns called Rome. There are twenty-eight called Berlin. In fact, almost every major city in Europe has a counterpart in the United States – most of which are simple small rural villages.

Resting quietly in the rural countryside of upstate New York is a small village called Copenhagen – population 800. The most interesting this about Copenhagen, New York is that it’s in Denmark – Denmark, New York that is. It’s a town within a town, or a village within a town to be more precise.

Neither the town of Denmark nor the village of Copenhagen started off with those names. The town of Denmark was built on the foundation of the Harrisburg in 1801, when numerous Scandinavian families immigrated to that area. The rest, as they say, is history.

And this is where the concept of Heiredal’s photograph project gets interesting. He wanted to find a way to expose both Copenhagen’s simultaneously. A strange duality of a big city and small town. A blend of modern Danish culture and small-town America.

I found the story behind this small American town to be fascinating, and Heiredal took the time to answer some of my questions about his work, and his adventure into the wide open spaces of rural America.

You’ve described your work as, “addressing the issue of time, geographies, spatial production, and representation.” Can you elaborate on this?

David Gersten proposed a question to me: The plan of a photograph is a straight line. While this is, of course, true in an architectural sense, it is also not true in a perceptual or emotional sense.

In my work, I am fascinated by the layering of time and place, which is a crucial reason for the photographic work to be conducted on physical film. Film holds the light that emanates from a particular moment; it can be thought of as the geographical imprint at that time. It’s a topography in its own right. The often multiple exposed photos are layers in time, a time-strata. And while undeveloped, this time-strata can be carried around the world and build upon; adding lakes and mountains, building geography.

The layered photography becomes a representation of places which do not exist singularly. Horizons from around the world superimposed upon one another become another horizon, they are all generally the same but wildly different. As with the Copenhagen NYDK project, two places tied together only by name reflects new and unexpected sides of each other. They merge and becomes a one not existing outside of the photography.

On that note, tell me a little bit about your project Copenhagen NYDK.

I’m a founding fellow of Arts Letters & Numbers, an interdisciplinary approach to international education, based in Averill Park just east of Albany Upstate NY. I’ve always been fascinated by maps, and during one of my stays at Arts Letters & Numbers I noticed the Village of Copenhagen in the town of Denmark—so I decided very merely to go there. I had no plans or ideas other than I had a feeling I needed to see the place; to experience it. On my drive, I talked to people at various truck stops and all said a version of: ‘What you wanna do up there? There’s nothing there!’ Upon my arrival I was told: ‘You must to our only tourist, like ever!’ So it set out to do what I do—I walked around. And (as a tourist) just started to photograph the village, not knowing what it was for.

Only upon returning to Copenhagen DK, with the undeveloped film did it dawn on me; that these places were connected only by name So as many tourists come to Copenhagen, Denmark and become the tourist again?

What is it that draws you to the use of photography and film as a medium?

Film has a range of qualities of the physical realm that I enjoy. It allows for a greater commitment than the digital. For example, my work Invisible Cities, layering multiple exposures of cities on to themselves would not be possible digitally, in that instance I would have to take photos and choose which goes on top of each other and which parts are visible, etc. I would be too aware of what I’m doing to do it.

With film, it is left to the chaos of the photographing process while simultaneously allowing for my idiosyncrasies to shine through—at times even without me knowing. It allows for me to distill the process to the pure execution of the concept; set up a structure to follow in the finding of the motives. It allows for me to discover myself and the city I find in myself—as well as myself in.

How do you begin a series of work, once you have a concept in place?

I research the concepts that naturally comes to me. It’s a lot of it is about intuition and curiosity and doing something which leads to the next. I walk around, and I feel compelled to do something. I write and make sketches in my notebooks, and they emerge from there. So, I really think that it’s a back and forth between myself as an explorer (comes naturally to me) and a thinker/craftsman (conduct research/work).

Most of my photographic projects start out in between my camera and my notebook. Either as a feeling during a walk that leads to a series of photos or as sketches on an idea of what the project could be. But commonly, they do go through both camera (perception) and notebook (hand). Sketching out both process and concept for the piece helps in the various aspects during the conception of the piece; though never letting me know what it will result in—chaos or chance is always a large part of my creation.

Would you say that your work has an intent or result, or would you say that your work acts as a documentation of your exploration of a concept?

I would say that it hits right down the middle. There is a definite intent in the concept, but due to the process, it will always be in the hands of the execution to reveal the true result. It takes a lot of thrusts to work in this way, as there is never a guarantee.

You collection quite a resume of exhibitions, artist lectures and work over the years, both as a commercial architect and as an artist. How do you feel these disciplines complement each other?

Art and architecture have a complicated relationship. The idea that things can appear as the same but be wildly different is extremely compelling to me. And thus art can be architecture and architecture art; it depends on the intention behind it. Too many architects want to be artists, and too many artists encroach on architecture with no concern for the people. I am trying my best to situate my practice within a place of debate about this—and the roles of either often in an urban context. But as you can get very blinded on your way I have no idea whether or not I am succeeding or just kidding myself. I can even be doing both at the same time. That’s up to others to decide.

What are some of the next things you have planned?

My current interest is merging aspects of my photographic work with my sculptural—working on the way they exist within the exhibition space and the surfaces and materials they inhabit. A continuation of my work with the space within the photography, the multiple layers do physically sit on top of each other on the film.

I’m exploring how to bring this into the prints as well as closely looking at the space that exists between them, both in a physical sense of the spatial relationships in the room and in a meta-understanding of the relationship between the subject matter and internal compositions, constellations.

This stretches into my current work of gathering my material on Inner Geographies, a publication that will include, writing, photography and a large hand-drawn map. Everything centered on this idea of the city and the Inner Geographies we build within us as we engage with them and the first testimony to my Sustained Line of Inquiry.